Tag: exploring (Page 2 of 2)

Isla del Encanto Roadtrip: Puerto Rico Oeste

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Ponce (c) AB Raschke

I have to say, the Western side of Puerto Rico was my favorite, even though I loved El Yunque. There is SO much on this side of the island, and I thought that the Karst formations here were fascinating and endlessly beautiful.

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Ponce (c) AB Raschke

First, I’m going to include Ponce in my discussion of the Western side of the island. This was the first city that we stayed at in Puerto Rico (driving for ~1.5-2 hours after a full day of airplane travel was not pleasant), and it was our introduction to real Puerto Rico, rather than the place that I had built up in my head. It was my awakening to the fact that Puerto Rico is its own country, with its own, unique culture (which I discuss in my previous Puerto Rico post- link), The architecture here is unlike anything I have ever seen in the US, and it is really a testament to the age of the city (founded in 1692- which is pretty old for the “new” world). Just taking some time to walk around and appreciate the buildings downtown is a great use of any traveler’s time. However, on top of the lovely buildings like the Cathedral of Our Lady Guadelupe and the Parque de Bombas, there are also a bunch of nice museums in Ponce. I have heard that the art

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Ponce (c) AB Raschke

museum here is well wroth the trip, but I was only able to visit the Ponce Museum of History, which I enjoyed as it gave me a chance to both practice my Spanish reading abilities and learn more about Puerto Rico. This museum is also free, but be sure to sign the guest book when you visit. Finally, keep in mind that a lot of museums may be closed on Monday or Tuesday in Ponce, so try to do a little research when deciding what days you will be there and what you want to see. Also, I would suggest doing a little reading on safety in Ponce, because there have been some issues with crime against tourists in this area- link .

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Toro Negro (c) AB Raschke

While in Ponce, I also visited Toro Negro┬á for some hiking in the rainforest. Trying to use a phone GPS to find this place proved to be quite difficult, so I would suggest following the directions on the site I have linked to above if you want to give it a visit. The site says that the ranger station here may no longer be manned, but when we went it was open and we were able to get maps and suggestions for what trails to see in the time we had. Not having a lot of time, because we decided to visit last minute and had some trouble finding it, we just hiked to Charco La Confesora, which was a nice swimming spot, and wasn’t too busy (especially compared to El Yunque!). There is enough here to spend the whole day exploring, however, as there are some architectural points of interest (an old observation tower and a swimming pool- no consensus as to whether this is open now or not) as well as some waterfalls- Dona Petra and Dona Juana Falls. I would have loved to spend more time there exploring, and it was so much quieter than El Yunque. I would highly suggest spending some time here if you are looking to experience the rainforest of Puerto Rico at all.

Finally, to my favorite part of western Puerto Rico- the north where

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Rio Camuy Cave Park (c) AB Raschke

the Karst is. The place that I read about most for this area was Rio Camuy Cave Park , and since I love caves, I absolutely had to visit. First, here’s what is great about this place: the ride and hike into the cave are mind-blowingly beautiful; I just love descending through the forest into the shady caves, and it was wonderful to see how the life of the forest really invades these caves and adapts to life here. The formations in the main part of the cave are massive, and finale of the tour is an overlook down to a river that gives the cave its name, and in my mind, makes it s unique spot worth checking

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Rio Camuy Cave Park (c) AB Raschke

out. All that being said, this is not the best cave tour I have been on. For the size of the cave, the tour was far too long, and this was due to several things: the tour guide had to say everything in Spanish and English (probably my fault- let’s be honest), the trails were very slippery and some people had to take them slowly for safety’s sake, and the tour groups were huge, so everything took longer than it would have otherwise. It really felt like they were just trying to get as many people through the cave as they could, but even so, if you aren’t careful, you might not be able to visit, because the park wisely caps how many people can come per day. So, if you do decide to stop by (the views are worth the downfalls of the tour, as long as you get there early enough), come early! If you don’t, you may need to wait for a long time for your tour (some reviews I read said 3 hours- not sure if they are exaggerating or not, but I got there by 10a and I had to wait an hour) or you may not get to go at all. Once you get there, you will get a number as you drive in (your place in line), then you pay for parking, park, pay for your ticket, and wait for your number to be called. Keep the process in mind, and I think the visit will be much more enjoyable; I didn’t have problems because I read up on it beforehand.

An alternative spot to visit (or a great addition) is Cueva Ventana

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Cueva Ventana (c) AB Raschke

or the Window Cave (aptly named). On this tour, you will climb through two caves. The first is quite lovely in that there are tree roots and even little plants growing in the cave, surviving on the bare minimum of light. The second cave has a room full of bats, which was amazing to see, especially at such close distance. It then leads to the cave’s namesake, a large opening that looks out onto the countryside and a curving river. The view alone is worth the price, honestly, but the wildlife that we saw in these caves was exceptional. I saw my first amblypygi here! I liked this tour a little better than Rio Camuy, but there were a few things that concerned me. First, I thought we were disturbing the bats, and while some of the visitors were just shining lights on the animals or screaming a little because they were afraid, I know from my PhD work that this can add up to some serious problems for the animals. Also, the tour groups here were also very large, which made it hard for the guides to make sure that people were following their directions. Overall, it was a great place, however, and both caves really gave me the opportunity to get to know this beautiful area.

 

Torrey Pines State Reserve, San Diego, CA

As its name implies, the Torrey Pines State Reserve is one of only two places in the world where the rare Torrey Pine (Pinus torreyana) grows. To my eyes, the Torrey Pine is a squat, hearty tree that makes its way in the world by clinging to the sandy cliffs of the La Jolla area. Coastal storms and the harsh desert environment that the tree calls home have twisted some of the plants, but many look unexceptional. Nonetheless, I always find myself enjoying the company and experience of rare species; there’s something special about being in their presence.

Torrey Pine! (c) AB Raschke

Torrey Pine! (c) AB Raschke

Outside of visiting for the trees, the Torrey Pines State Reserve also has a set of trails that weave through the dry, coastal environment of San Diego, and it sports a long, sandy beach perched just under the crumbling cliffs of the shrubby bluffs that characterize the park. It also home to the Los Penasquitos Marsh, which has been closed to all use save one trail. The components that constitute the reserve make it a varied place, that is appealing to hikers, travelers, and beachgoers and which kept me busy for more than half the day.

When I visited the park, I hiked up the north beach first. In the morning, the crowds were fairly limited for a California beach, but there were swimmers, sunbathers, and surfers scattered all the way from the parking lot to the northern end of the park. There was also a large group of devoted volunteers combing the beach for trash when I was there, and I always find it heartening to run into people spending their time caring for the environment. The beach seemed otherwise unremarkable, and it was made somewhat unpleasant by the close proximity of a busy railway.

Neat coastal, sandstone formations (c) AB Raschke

Neat coastal, sandstone formations (c) AB Raschke

The southern half of the reserve was more appealing, but due to my lack of research before visiting, I was somewhat surprised by the fact that I had to pay for parking two separate times as my ticket for the northern parking lot didn’t work for the other half of the park. The northern half of the reserve is home to most of the Torrey Pines hiking trails, has a visitor center, restrooms, and its own beach.

Many of the trails here meander through the green capped dunes of hard packed sand, that are crisscrossed by increasingly deep ruts and ravines that have been carved out of the cliffs over the years. These paths can take hikers out towards the cliff edge, where you can gaze out at the ocean, and take in the adventurous nature of the Torrey Pines, as many of them grow along the cliffs and in the recesses of the water-carved sandstone. I took several of these trails, and enjoyed the unique vegetation and beautiful scenery of the ocean along all of them, however, the path down to the beach from the northern bluff to Flat Rock, was my favorite place here.

Beautiful views in Torrey Pines (c) AB Raschke

Beautiful views in Torrey Pines (c) AB Raschke

And if you have any questions about Torrey Pines or my travels feel free to leave me a comment. ­čÖé

My next update will be on New Years, and will be about my first impressions of New York City. I can already say that I do not enjoy the cold!

Everything You Need to Know About Morne Trois Pitons National Park, Dominica

During my trip to Dominica, I visited the Morne Trois Pitons National Park (MTP) on several occasions, and I would have liked to have spent even more time there. The park has several main attractions- the Freshwater Lake, the Boiling Lake, the Valley of Desolation, the Emerald Pools, and Trafalgar Falls, among other things. There are things to do there for both the casual traveller, and the adventurous hiker, as it offered beautiful stops close the road, and more secluded areas down miles of trails.

My initial visit to┬áMorne Trois Pitons National Park was on my first full day in Dominica, and it was a place that I have not been able to stop dreaming about since. Still tired from our day and a half of traveling, my dad and I opted for a relaxing tour of the park in which we drove from site to site, and our longest hike was probably half a mile long. The road up through the park from Dominica’s capital was steep and narrow, complete with sharp, blind turns, but it was well maintained and there seemed to be better signage here than anywhere else that I had seen, which hinted at the park’s importance to Dominica’s tourism.

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Freshwater Lake (c) ABR

The Freshwater Lake

Many tourists, in fact, come to the island on a cruise ship, jump on a tour bus at the dock, and then spend the day seeing some of the most beautiful places that the island, and perhaps the world, has to offer. Oddly, however, less cruise passengers took this opportunity than I would have thought.

The first place that we visited in┬áMorne Trois Pitons National Park was the Freshwater Lake, which is the largest of Dominica’s four freshwater lakes, and the second deepest- according to the UNESCO World Heritage website. When we got there, the area was deserted. There was a small museum and ticketing booth along the shore of the lake that no one had opened that day, suggesting that few visitors were expected. It made me a little sad to think that no one was out there to appreciate the beauty of this place, but it was nice to have the chance to drink in the lush landscape and enjoy the crisp air in peace. The lake itself was surrounded by intense, green forests and the steep mountains that characterize Dominica’s interior, and there were some short trails that weaved their way down to the lake’s edge. If this place had been in Arizona, the water would have been dotted with kayakers, and I would have enjoyed exploring Freshwater more, but we didn’t linger there long. We stayed just long enough to take a few pictures, regard the shuttered visitor center with some disappointment, and watch a few of the montane clouds drift over the tops of the mountains on the cool, tropical winds of the lake’s high elevation.

Ti Tou Gorge

After stopping at the lake, we drove down to Ti Tou Gorge (which I don’t think is technically part of the National Park). Here, we took a short hike up along a creek to a lean-to where there were several people selling souvenirs and snacks, along with a group of guides that were bringing people up through the gorge.

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Ti Tou Gorge (c) ABR

As I would later find out, Ti Tou Gorge sits at the trailhead that leads to the Boiling Lake. Due to the fact that I was unwilling to get wet and cold in order to explore the gorge itself, I used the bottom of the trail to explore the upper edge of the formation, which was something like a massive crack in the stony ground of the forest. Looking down from the edge, I could make out several waterfalls and enjoy the sounds of the creek as it rushed through the narrow spaces below. For those who are less bothered by cold water, it was possible to pay a guide to take you into the gorge and up to one of those waterfalls.

Trafalgar Falls

Our last stop in the park during that first day was Trafalgar falls. Here the visitor center was open, and we were required to purchase our week-long national park ticket before we took the short trail down to the falls. For those visitors uninterested or unable to do some scrambling, there was a nice outlook point complete with benches for resting. The falls were off in the distance here, but I couldn’t imagine anything more pleasant than resting in the shade close to those waterfalls, surrounded by the living rainforest of Dominica. Not opposed to some scrambling myself, my father and I hiked down from the viewing point where we followed the trail between some massive boulders, and across a warm, volcanic stream. On the other side of the murky, volcanic waters the forest opened up to a sunny hill of grey boulders, which were crowned by the twin Trafalgar falls. We climbed up far enough to get a clear view of the falls, and we could have worked our way further up to the base of either, if we had had the time. It was a somewhat difficult area to explore, however, due to the sheer size of the boulders here.

The Boiling Lake

The grandest adventure of Morne Trois Pitons National Park (at least that is widely advertised to tourists) is the trek to Boiling Lake. As I mentioned above, the trailhead for this volcanic attraction is at Ti Tou Gorge, where the trail begins a slow decent up into the tropical rainforest and continues on for about 7 miles, one way.

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Trafalgar Falls (c) ABR

Due to the length of the trail, it generally takes about 8 hours to go to the lake and come back, and it is necessary to start the hike early. The first section of the trail, which climbs up and down the mountains, crosses the Breakfast River, and then descends into the Valley of Desolation is well maintained, and consistently lined with logs, which serve as steps for the nearly constantly incline (in one direction or another) of the journey. Once the trail drops down into the Valley of Desolation, however, it becomes hard to follow, and it weaves between steaming volcanic vents, which can be very dangerous. So, guides are needed for this journey for safety reasons, but they also provide good information and stories along the trail, and any money spent on a guide is good support for local people.

Desolation Valley

Much of the trek through the forest towards the lake looked much the same to me, although I enjoyed listening to songs of Dominica’s native birds, and learning about some of medicinal uses for the plants that we were passing along the way. The first major stop on the trail is the Breakfast River, which the trail crosses right over. We only stopped long enough for a short snack, and then began the long climb from the river up to the highest point of the trail. The steep climb was intense, but we were rewarded for our efforts by the cool air at the top of the mountain, and some spectacular views of the landscape of the island’s interior.

After this point, the trail arched down the mountain, and then all but disappeared into the multicolored, volcanic soil of Desolation Valley. Our guide led us safely down the this very steep (and slippery in the rain) part of the trail, and I found that both hands and feet needed to be firmly planted on the smooth surface of the cliff to avoid slipping. It was a somewhat frightening climb down, in my opinion, but our guide did a very good job getting us safely into the valley.

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The Valley of Desolation (c) ABR

Trekking Home

Once down from the cliff, we had to pick our way through a nearly lifeless valley dotted with steaming pools of grey mud. Many of these were hot enough to cause serious burns, but the guides knew of places were visitors could scoop up the mineral mud to coat parts of their skin in. I didn’t partake in this activity, but rumor had it, the mud was very good for the skin.

About a half-mile or a mile from the edge of the valley, and after following the trail along a creek, up and down a few more small cliffs, and through more of the desolate, volcanic landscape that makes up the valley, we tiredly made our way into the steamy mist that surrounds the Boiling Lake. We perched along a cliff there for lunch, where we could regard the natural feature that had drawn us through the forest for miles. It was an almost unbelievable sight- the flat grey form of the lake was constantly disturbed by bubbles. All my understanding of the world told me that these bubbles must be caused by air escaping up through the water, but in fact, the lake is so hot that it is actively boiling (as its name suggests). The cloud of steam that surrounds the pool of hot water is a testament to its heat, as are the stories that tell of guides lowering eggs into the water in little baskets, and then drawing them back up to the cliff, fully cooked.

After enjoying the lake for some time, and resting our exhausted bodies, it came time to return, all the way back where were had come from.

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The Boiling Lake (c) ABR

On the way, there were hot pools to enjoy and relax in, and then we had to brave the cliffs and mountains again to return home. It was well worth the trip, but perhaps one of the most difficult hikes that I have ever done.

Emerald Pool

Finally, on my dad’s last day on the island, we visited the Emerald Pool. This particular part of the park is easily accessible from one of the roads that run up from Roseau to the Melville Hall airport, and it is a good place to stop at before bidding the island farewell. There was a surprisingly large parking lot here, ringed by a large visitor center as well as venders selling souvenirs and socializing in the shade. Past the visitor’s center is a short loop trail, which guides travellers through the forest and down to the calm, brilliantly blue pool for which this area is named. The pool itself sits at the bottom of a rocky cliff, and is fed by a slender waterfall. The forest is mostly kept at bay by the rocky soil of the beach, but a few tall and twisted trees are perched along the edge of the pool- making for pleasant places to rest and enjoy the almost otherworldly beauty of the Emerald Pool. On the returning leg of the loop trail, there is one spot where visitors can look out at the forest and see the ocean on the other side of the island. For those visitors looking for a quick stop, the Emerald Pool is easy to pass through in a half an hour or so, but it is also a place where one could spend the afternoon, picnicking, swimming in the pool, and appreciating the hospitality of the Dominican landscape.

Morne Trois Pitons National Park

The Emerald Pool (c) ABR

If you are looking into visiting Dominica, be sure to read our guide!

FOR MORE INFO!
MTP UNESCO Page
MTP Discover Dominica Page
MTP Tripadvisor Page

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